Book Review: Everneath by Brodi Ashton

Krispy got this book from the library on a whim because she'd heard good things about it and was vaguely interested.  As usual, I stole it from her.  The book was much less dramatic than the blurb implied and was full of connotations of abusive relationship justification and metaphoric rape that's not really rape because hey, she wanted it. 

Congratulations, Everneath, you are Alz's first F-grade book of 2012!  Congratulations again, you've received the lowest grade I've ever given a book so far!  And given that I've dished out several Fs in the past, that's an all-time low.  I hate this book so, so much.  As you all know, I read a lot of YA and dislike a lot of YA, but YA rarely offends me the way this book did.

Raging Alz.
This is going to be long.  Long and sordid.  But I want you to know exactly how this book deeply offended me with its overall badness and especially it's portrayal of (metaphoric) rape and victimhood.

Everneath by Brodi Ashton

Pros: If you have low blood pressure, reading this will raise it.
Cons: Reading this will give you high blood pressure and possibly an aneurysm or a heart attack; the metaphoric rape; the so-called romance; the metaphoric rape; the so-called plot; the metaphoric rape.

Intellectual Rating: 0 out of 10 stars
Emotional Grade: F-

Book Blurb: (from Goodreads)  Last spring, Nikki Beckett vanished, sucked into an underworld known as the Everneath, where immortals Feed on the emotions of despairing humans. Now she's returned- to her old life, her family, her friends- before being banished back to the underworld... this time forever.

She has six months before the Everneath comes to claim her, six months for good-byes she can't find the words for, six months to find redemption, if it exists.

Nikki longs to spend these months reconnecting with her boyfriend, Jack, the one person she loves more than anything. But there's a problem: Cole, the smoldering immortal who first enticed her to the Everneath, has followed Nikki to the mortal world. And he'll do whatever it takes to bring her back- this time as his queen.

As Nikki's time grows short and her relationships begin slipping from her grasp, she's forced to make the hardest decision of her life: find a way to cheat fate and remain on the Surface with Jack or return to the Everneath and become Cole's...

Alz's Take: Let's try something a little different, shall we?  I know authors have nothing to do with their blurbs, but this one is a magnificent example of how subtly misleading blurbs can be.  The story it describes isn't the one I read.  Let's repost the blurb above and point out the differences.
Last spring [I thought it was winter, actually], Nikki Beckett vanished, sucked into an underworld known as the Everneath, where immortals Feed on the emotions of despairing humans [sounds dramatic but they don't actually have to be despairing]. Now she's returned- to her old life, her family, her friends- before being banished back to the underworld... this time forever.

She has six months before the Everneath comes to claim her [which apparently she just knows since it's never once explained or mentioned how she knows she has six months or why she gets six months], six months for good-byes she can't find the words for [read: half a year of her angsting and ruining the lives of everyone around her because she's so self-centered and makes no progress on these supposed good-byes], six months to find redemption, if it exists. [It doesn't for her because she hasn't exactly done anything that requires, deserves, or needs redeeming. Yeah, she vanished suddenly without warning and quarreled with a couple of people, but this entire book convinced me that Nikki doesn't actually know the definition of redemption.]

Nikki longs to spend these months reconnecting with her boyfriend, Jack, [which means she spends these months avoiding him, lying to him, giving him the cold shoulder for his own good, deciding not to tell him that she is in fact going to have to leave permanently, etc.] the one person she loves more than anything [he's a hot football jock and that's it, so I have a hard time figuring out why she is so desperately in love with him, especially considering that he has a past history as a player and lacks the manners to even walk her to the door when he drives her home from a date]. But there's a problem: Cole, the smoldering immortal who first enticed her to the Everneath [this is incorrect as he did not entice her to the Everneath; he metaphorically roofied and raped her for three days before dragging her there while she was figuratively drugged], has followed Nikki to the mortal world. And he'll do whatever it takes to bring her back- this time as his queen. ["Do whatever it takes" means just hang around for six months being a creepy stalker, alternately begging Nikki to come back and threatening her. Also, he's not a king and her coming back doesn't necessarily mean she will become queen, though what exactly this means and who/where/why/what it involves in the Everneath is never wholly explained.]

As Nikki's time grows short and her relationships begin slipping from her grasp [she spends SIX MONTHS being maudlin and making no progress whatsoever in anything she came back to do], she's forced to make the hardest decision of her life: find a way to cheat fate [she waits until the very last week before deciding maybe she ought to try to find a way out of her predicament] and remain on the Surface with Jack or return to the Everneath and become Cole's... [This makes it sound like she's actually romantically attracted to Cole, and really she isn't, although this doesn't mean she's above flirting with him, using him, or wanting to be with him. The blurb also leaves out the fact that she has three choices: 1) try to cheat fate, 2) accept her doom wherein she must go to the Everneath's equivalent hell for some never-explained reason or 3) go with Cole to the Everneath instead of going to hell. Right from the beginning of the book she's determined NOT to go with Cole and stays firm in this decision for the entirety of the novel—and since she doesn't decide on #1 until the last week, that's essentially 90% of the book where Nikki morbidly accepts the fact that she's doomed to hell.]
It's no spoiler to tell you that you learn almost nothing about the Everneath except what's summarized in the blurb.  You never even see anything more of the Everneath than what you do in the prologue, which is a huge cavern with alcoves.  Oh, and there's apparently a queen and maybe some other people somewhere.  And the Tunnels, which are apparently a big scary deal that's so terrifying I nearly died of boredom.  The book banked on the fact that telling the reader repeatedly that the Tunnels are horrible will make them horrible, along with a two-second glimpse of a generic horror-movie scene.

What extremely little plot there is only comes into play in the last 80 pages or so, and that's when plot devices and extremely convenient help pops up left and right.  The erratic plot is further marred by poor editing because several times Nikki mentions how she has to do _____ and I was like WTF since she'd never even hinted at this decision/plot device/idea before.  This girl leaps to conclusions without bothering to tell the reader where she's leaping from, and these illogical plot jumps are never explained.

Nikki talks a lot about how she has a debt to the Tunnels/Everneath that must be repaid, but clearly Nikki doesn't know what the word debt means.  How exactly is she indebted to the Everneath?  

The majority of the book is Nikki (Now), intercut with flashbacks of Nikki (Last Year); in the present she's full of angst and in the past she's a stereotypical starry-eyed teen dating the generic hot popular boy.  By the way, that's a very helpful thing the book does: it wants to make absolutely sure you know exactly when and where Nikki is, so space breaks are prefaced by italics telling you her location, followed by Nikki announcing where she is in the first sentence thereafter.  Just a few examples:
"Lunch.  Five and a half months left.

At lunchtime, my lunch sack and knitting needles in hand, I tried to weave my way through the crowded halls as fast as I could, searching for a quiet place to eat. (p.22)"

"Christmas Dance.  Three months before the Feed.

Jack took me to the Christmas Dance.  (p.56)"

"My bedroom.  Four months left.

'Time's flying for you, Nik.'  Cole was sitting in the darkest corner of my bedroom, his guitar lying silent beside him. (p.92)"

"My car.  The parking lot

We ended up back in the parking lot of the soup kitchen, sitting in my car and trying to make sense of everything. (p.258)"
Yes indeed, Everneath is a book that banks on everything but actual good storytelling to carry its story through.  But how can you have a good story without, you know, good story?

You can't.  Which is why Everneath is a failure.

Krispy and another friend got me a real stamp of this
for a graduation gift.
There's a deficit of explanation for other Everneathian things such as, for instance, why and how Nikki gets six months on the Surface after her Return before she's hauled to the Tunnels by the Shades unless she agrees to become a Forfeit again and let her abusive Everliving love interest Feed upon her (lots of capitalization in this book that I could have done without).  How does she know she has six months?  Who tells her this?  Why did they even bother to let her Return?  How did she Return, exactly?

Unless I missed it somewhere while reading—and please do correct me if I did miss it—we never find any of this out.  And since the entire book hinges on her inexplicable and apparently unusual Return, well, that's a pretty big-ass plot hole.
I'm not even getting into the whole I-don't-understand-how-Nikki-becomes-a-battery-in-the-Tunnels-do-the-Everlivings-not-have-electricity-or-something thing—which isn't solely me being sarcastic, by the way.  At one point Nikki explains that life is made up of electrical impulses and the Everliving steal that electricity to prolong their own lives, which somehow magically means draining people's emotions.  Which can take the form of swirly pink and purple clouds flying around overhead and whizzing over to Cole and his bandmates to breathe in while playing a gig.

Hot damn that's shockingly dramatic.
Original image source: The Wanted.
Oh yes, did I forget to mention that Cole is in fact the super hot guitarist of the band the Dead Elvises?  And that Jack is the star high school football player?  And both are super amazingly in love with Nikki for no good reason that I can determine?

Let me refer you back to a post from last year where I talk about boys in love triangles because Everneath is a prime textbook example.

Cole is the blond spicyhot edgy mysterious dangerous badboy.
Jack is the childhood best friend stick figure who suffers from lack of character, history, and motivation.  That's right, folks, Jack doesn't even rank as high as tofu.

Both ardently desire Nikki.  Since the whole reason Nikki came back was to see Jack and it was in fact Jack's face that kept her sane during her hundred years in the vagueness of the Everneath, I thought he'd get some character development.  But there's nothing.  He used to be a player (but has always been a good guy, really!) until he fell in Troo Luv with Nikki…and that's it.  They have a generic high school romance and there's nothing in their relationship to make me believe there's a soul-deep connection between them or were even really in love.
Now let's talk about our spicyhot love triangle guy, Cole.  He is an emotionally manipulative, physically threatening, obsessive abusive rapist stalker and somehow I just don't find that attractive.  He's like Edward Cullen but the big difference is that Bella never considered Edward a creepy manipulative stalker (even though she should have) whereas Nikki actually does feel menaced and threatened by Cole and…still smiles and flirts with him anyway.

It was even more disturbing since Cole's actions carry heavy overtones of rape.  Think I'm exaggerating?  The prologue is all about the immediate aftermath of the Feed in the Everneath, which involves her and Cole cocooned together and forcibly pressed body-to-body with their arms wrapped around each other and legs tangled together for a hundred years while he Feeds upon her emotions (which means sucking them out of her and literally removing her capacity to feel and reason) without her consent.  And at the end of the Feed, her first thoughts have to do with getting away from Cole/not staying with Cole/going home and finding Jack.

Unfortunately, the sexual overtones of the Feed as set by the prologue taint every other instance of Feeding in the book.  P. 283 brings up the century-long sexytimes again even more explicitly: "My traitorous arms and legs wanted to tangle with Cole's again.  That hundred years in the Everneath had molded us together, and our bodies had memorized how they were supposed to fit."

As for that metaphoric roofie-and-rape thing I mentioned in the blurb edit at the beginning—I won't be specific about the plot and events, but I will be about the rape-y details.  So be forewarned that it is POSSIBLY MINORLY SPOILERY ahead.  

The whole scene is Feed-related and the facts that we eventually find out are clear:

  1. Nikki was emotionally distraught and hysterical at the time and Cole took advantage of her. 
  2. She didn't know what she was getting herself into because Cole chose not to explain. 
  3. While she "consented" the first (emotionally distraught) time, every time thereafter she told him to stop/changed her mind, he messed her up so that she was literally unable to protest. 
  4. He was forcibly doing something deeply personal to her without her consent for three days.  (The exact quote is "a few days" which I take to mean at least three and possibly more.)  So, basically, he kept her locked up so he could rape her for days.
  5. At the end of this time frame, he abducted her to the Everneath where he proceeded to metaphorically rape her for a hundred years.  Ah, young love.  Ah, YA romance.  Ah, another book I want to burn in a bonfire.

Despite all of this, Nikki still smiles at Cole and finds him attractive and can't bring herself to do anything about him.  Not, I suppose, that she can do much against an immortal stalker who pops up in her bedroom and can screw with people's emotions, but her thoughts toward him never contain any particular alarm, revulsion, anger, fear, etc.  Is he messing with her emotions every time he shows up?  Possibly, but she doesn't think about him any differently when he's not there.

Ultimately, Nikki tells herself that she asked for it and she wanted it, so it's okay.  That's right, peeps, the protagonist of this book is essentially a rape victim convincing herself that she really did want it as she carries on a twisted Stockholm-syndrome-ish relationship with her rapist.  She's in an abusive relationship and can't see it because she's convinced really, she wanted it, she was okay with it, really.

Yes, I am getting my use out of this doodle.

So Jack has no personality or character, Cole is a stalker-rapist, both "love" Nikki, and all this leads me to Nikki and how much I hated her too, quite aside from what's discussed above.

This girl is one of the most selfish YA heroines I've read.  She blames everyone but herself for her angst and the entire book would not have happened if she had just waited 15 seconds in her Dark Angsty Past instead of leaping to melodramatic conclusions and then to melodramatic actions.
For a girl who came back to say her goodbyes and give everyone closure, all she did was screw up all her relationships because of bad or delayed decisions, angst over herself, and spend no time with her family.  She's a party animal at her own self-pity party and she ain't never leaving.

Half the time she was angsting over how awkward things are with Jack now, and the other half of the time she'd be angsting that she should leave him alone, except she couldn't make herself do that.  This is not a story of grief and closure and emotional struggle; it is a story of baseless angst for the sake of angst with no depth or thematic exploration.

That's this entire book in a nutshell.  Nikki dicks around and angsts instead of doing anything or making choices, and then when things blow up in her face, she blames someone else and runs away.  Now, this would be fine as long as we see Nikki's transformation as she learns the error of her ways and shoulders responsibility and changes.  But she doesn't grow at all, ever.  Even the end of the book is pretty much Nikki doing nothing/blaming others/running away/depending on others to clean up her messes.

I also hated her because at one point prior to the whole Everneath Feeding thing, while Jack was still her boyfriend and they were on great terms, she was hanging out with Cole all the time and letting him flirt with her and get a little handsy, but it was okay because he was just her friend.  Except she actually thinks for a moment what it would be like if Jack's ex-girlfriend were hanging all over him the same way Cole was hanging all over her, and she doesn't like it.  But she doesn't stop Cole or pull away from him or say anything; she just lets Cole inappropriately carry on.

Let's move on and talk mythology.   Aside from blatantly and repeatedly referencing the Hades/Persephone myth in Nikki's English class, the book makes a big deal about the Orpheus/Eurydice myth.  Nikki latches on to the latter and distorts it with interpretations that make no sense because I've never in my life come across a version of the myth as she paints it: Eurydice survived because of Orpheus's love for her!  And a couple of other things that Alz isn't going to specify here since it would be spoilery, but rest assured it makes no sense in the context of the myth!

Nikki, Eurydice died.  I don't think there's any version of the myth that exists where she lived.  And as for the other unspecified things, that didn't happen and that doesn't make sense.

Orpheus: Wait, you lived? Since when??
Eurydice: You sacrificed yourself for me???
This image may be used without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose.
"Orpheus and Euridice" by George Frederic Watts from The Victorian Web.
I happen to love Greek mythology so this mutilation of it offended me because it was just so WTF.  She mangled the myth to fit her theory and it offended me even further because her theory turned out to be correct.  And since I already found 90% of the book offensive by this point, this just pushed me into a state of inarticulate a;sjfda;lsjf;aljsfsalfd.

There were actually a bunch of other things wrong with this book—plot devices (Magic bracelets!  Egyptian mythology for some reason!  Random inexplicable cults!  Dead mothers!), more plot holes, craptastic lack of worldbuilding, a Titanic-sized boatload of WTFery in the end, the ending itself which still makes me want to claw someone's eyes out, etc.—but this review is too long already and the rape thing, I just.  I can't.  WTF, Everneath.

Alz's Conclusion: I can see the appeal of Everneath if you don't think about it too hard, and probably if you love Twilight or Hush, Hush, you might want to check it out.  As it is, I need to find a pair of lead-lined gloves to pick this up for when I return it to Krispy since I don't want to touch it again.  Nikki Beckett deserves her eternity in hell for all the emotional disaster she visits upon the world through her angst, indecisiveness, and lack of growth.  Cole is a rapist, Nikki is okay with being raped, and Jack is slavishly devoted cardboard.  If I could time travel, I'd go back to when I was first picking this book up from Krispy, curbstomp myself in the face, and yell, "DON'T DO IT, ALZ!  The pain you feel now is nothing compared to what you will endure if you read that crime against literature!"


Waiting on Wednesday: Beautiful Covers

This is pretty exciting because I think this is our first official Waiting on Wednesday post. Usually, we just squee about stuff whenever we want, but I actually had the foresight to put this up on a Wednesday! :)

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

We actually have 3 books we're eagerly waiting on, and they all have gorgeous covers. They are...

1) SERAPHINA by Rachel Hartman / Pub Date: July 10, 2012

Blurb from goodreads: Four decades of peace have done little to ease the mistrust between humans and dragons in the kingdom of Goredd. Folding themselves into human shape, dragons attend court as ambassadors, and lend their rational, mathematical minds to universities as scholars and teachers. As the treaty's anniversary draws near, however, tensions are high.

Seraphina Dombegh has reason to fear both sides. An unusually gifted musician, she joins the court just as a member of the royal family is murdered—in suspiciously draconian fashion. Seraphina is drawn into the investigation, partnering with the captain of the Queen's Guard, the dangerously perceptive Prince Lucian Kiggs. While they begin to uncover hints of a sinister plot to destroy the peace, Seraphina struggles to protect her own secret, the secret behind her musical gift, one so terrible that its discovery could mean her very life.

In her exquisitely written fantasy debut, Rachel Hartman creates a rich, complex, and utterly original world. Seraphina's tortuous journey to self-acceptance is one readers will remember long after they've turned the final page.
So, I actually am cheating on this one because I've read it! I received an e-ARC through Netgalley, and it was my most recent read. I LOVED IT, so much so that it's in my Waiting on Wednesday because I can't wait to get my hands on a physical copy of this beautiful book (look at that cover!)!

I'll review it in depth closer to its publication date, but suffice to say, it was an excellent read, filled with unspoken but deeply felt things. The worldbuilding was detailed, the dragons fascinatingly alien, and the heroine touchingly insecure yet brave. She was a refreshingly strong female character whose strength doesn't come from her ability to kick butt; it comes from her smarts. KEEP YOUR EYE OUT FOR THIS ONE!

2) UNSPOKEN by Sarah Rees Brennan / Pub Date: September 11, 2012

Blurb from goodreads: Kami Glass loves someone she’s never met . . . a boy she’s talked to in her head ever since she was born. She wasn’t silent about her imaginary friend during her childhood, and is thus a bit of an outsider in her sleepy English town of Sorry-in-the-Vale. Still, Kami hasn’t suffered too much from not fitting in. She has a best friend, runs the school newspaper, and is only occasionally caught talking to herself. Her life is in order, just the way she likes it, despite the voice in her head.

But all that changes when the Lynburns return.

The Lynburn family has owned the spectacular and sinister manor that overlooks Sorry-in-the-Vale for centuries. The mysterious twin sisters who abandoned their ancestral home a generation ago are back, along with their teenage sons, Jared and Ash, one of whom is eerily familiar to Kami. Kami is not one to shy away from the unknown—in fact, she’s determined to find answers for all the questions Sorry-in-the-Vale is suddenly posing. Who is responsible for the bloody deeds in the depths of the woods? What is her own mother hiding? And now that her imaginary friend has become a real boy, does she still love him? Does she hate him? Can she trust him?

I love SRB's writing, her skilled handling of themes, and her amazing humor. This has been described as a modern gothic mystery, complete with a family of shady blonds and an intrepid young heroine, plus a dash of the supernatural. Awesome!

I've already read the first 3 chapters! You can too here: UNSPOKEN preview!

3) THE RAVEN BOYS by Maggie Stiefvater / Pub Date: September 18, 2012

Blurb from goodreads: “There are only two reasons a non-seer would see a spirit on St. Mark’s Eve,” Neeve said. “Either you’re his true love . . . or you killed him.”

It is freezing in the churchyard, even before the dead arrive.

Every year, Blue Sargent stands next to her clairvoyant mother as the soon-to-be dead walk past. Blue herself never sees them—not until this year, when a boy emerges from the dark and speaks directly to her.

His name is Gansey, and Blue soon discovers that he is a rich student at Aglionby, the local private school. Blue has a policy of staying away from Aglionby boys. Known as Raven Boys, they can only mean trouble.

But Blue is drawn to Gansey, in a way she can’t entirely explain. He has it all—family money, good looks, devoted friends—but he’s looking for much more than that. He is on a quest that has encompassed three other Raven Boys: Adam, the scholarship student who resents all the privilege around him; Ronan, the fierce soul who ranges from anger to despair; and Noah, the taciturn watcher of the four, who notices many things but says very little.

For as long as she can remember, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love to die. She never thought this would be a problem. But now, as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore.

From Maggie Stiefvater, the bestselling and acclaimed author of the Shiver trilogy and The Scorpio Races, comes a spellbinding new series where the inevitability of death and the nature of love lead us to a place we’ve never been before.

I'm intrigued by the blurb, and I'm in love with the cover! Also, you may recall that I am deeply enamored with Maggie Stiefvater's last book, THE SCORPIO RACES (yeah, it's not a YA infatuation, it's true love). So I'm eager to see where her writing takes me next!

I'm saving these chapters, but you can read a 2 chapter preview here: The Raven Boys preview!

What books are you looking forward to?


Randomosity on Fridays: Return to Schneizeleffort!

YAY IT'S FRIDAY!!! So while I was working on my epically long Hunger Games Movie, Part 1 and Hunger Games Movie, Part 2 reviews, one of my friends told me I was putting way too much effort into them. I ignored her because I had ALL THE FEELINGS about the movie & books that I needed to get out, but mostly, I ignored her because I'd already written like 1.5 reviews. So I was past the point of no return.

BUT she makes a fair point, since some of you may recall that my "motto" in life is schneizeleffort, and those review posts were anything but!

Schneizel does not approve of all the effort I've expended.
So in the spirit of getting back into the schneizeleffort, here's a super random Friday post. It's got the Hunger Games stuff I couldn't fit into my long-o review posts, blog stuff, the musical crush of my life, and a movie I am WAY MORE EXCITED FOR than I was for HG.

1) One of the best things the Hunger Games movie spawned was epic gifs and FANDOM CROSSOVERS. Check out a whole bunch of my fandoms running through forests! AWESOME.

Also, check out Alz's amazing iPad drawing skills while playing Draw Something.

#teamAmity ftw2) Secondly, I accidentally on purpose joined #TeamAmity. You may have noticed the icon on our sidebar. This affiliation is actually only mine since I was the one who joined, and also the Divergent test put me in Amity. So really, it's all cool. Alz is more like Candor. In any case, this is part of a promotion for the upcoming release of the Divergent sequel, INSURGENT.

So support Team Amity! Clicky click the faction symbol to help us, and maybe consider joining! We're where all the fun people are at. We sing and dance and are into people getting along, man. (Yeah, we're kinda hippies, but that's fitting for me too since I went to arguably Hippie Capitol UC Berkeley. Go Bears!)

Oh and we have an EPIC Team Amity group giveaway if you weren't convinced about our FUN-ness. JUST SAYIN. ;)

3) The ALL THINGS ASIAN Blog hop was a cool thing that happened at the beginning of April and ran until earlier this week. It featured posts about Asian characters, authors, and bloggers. There were also a few giveaways! Even though it's over, do check out some of the posts!

4) My musical crush for life, Mr. A to Z, Jason Mraz dropped his new album this week. It's called Love is a Four Letter Word, and this weekend, when I have time, I'm going to be listening to this thing on repeat. He's also announced tour dates. The Sister is an uber fan (seriously, she's been going to his concerts since high school, and he hung out with her & her friends one year while they waited in line hours before the show), so she jumped on the ticket-buying, which means, we'll be seeing him in concert later this year. *SQUEE!* If there is ANYONE you should ever see perform live, it is this man. Flawless voice-of-an-angel is flawless, but especially when you hear it in real life in real time.

Off the album, The Freedom Song

5) THE AVENGERS. This movie has been premiering all over the place, leading up to its actual release in May (late April for some lucky non-US countries). Guys, I am SO EXCITED. Look at this gorgeous cast!

And it's no secret I have a crush on Tom Hiddleston because he's an adorable human being and talented to boot. So I'm especially excited to see him reprise his role as the trickster God of Sass Badassery Mischief, Loki.

Yeah, an army of fangirls.

I'm also looking forward to this brotherly reunion.
STOP IT THOR not in front of my alien army!! - by Noelle Stevenson.

As many others have said before me, ASSEMBLE FASTER, dang it!

Hit me with your Random OR tell me what's up with you this weekend! Have a great weekend!


Spring Into the Future Book Tour 2012

I feel like I haven't chatted with you guys in a while, probably because my last two posts were word-vomit Walls of Text about the Hunger Games movie (HG Part 1, HG Part 2). THANK YOU, btw, for sticking through those. I loved hearing your opinions, and I totally meant to reply to those of you who left comments, but it's been busy-busy in Real Life.

Now, we're sort of back to our regularly scheduled programming!

Last week, Alz, Sophia, and I went to the LA stop of the Spring Into the Future Book Tour, featuring Anna Carey (Eve), Cynthia Hand (Unearthly and Hallowed), Tahereh Mafi (Shatter Me), Veronica Rossi (Under the Never Sky), and special guest Marie Lu (Legend).

This was very exciting for me because it was my first YA Q&A/signing event. I know, I live in the Los Angeles area, how is this possible? Well, I hate driving (I know - totally crazy for a So-Californian to say, but I do), and many of the other YA book tours that have come through that I've been interested in going to have been relatively far away from me, which would force me to navigate unknown freeways and neighborhoods. Also, this is not ideal when it is a weekday night (infamous LA Rush Hours are infamous for a reason). SO, I was quite pleased to learn the LA stop was going to be in a familiar locale for me! :D

Also exciting was meeting Miss Tahereh in person because I feel like I've been chatting with her forever over blogs and Twitter.

Anyway, PICS:

Sophia picked up a copy of Under the Never Sky, a signed bookmark, and a signed poster.

Signing all the things...

So a few months ago, Sophia met Marie Lu on the Breathless Reads tour and helped me get my copy of Legend signed. The "Boba4Life" shout-out was a bonus. Marie Lu remembered this encounter, and somehow this led to everyone on this end of the table finding out Sophia was the first iPod silhouette. Which led to...

Sophia signing an autograph for Tahereh!

Finally meeting Tahereh in person.
Tahereh is as sweet and funny as she is online, though perhaps a tad less CAPS LOCKY, but awesome nonetheless. She also has amazing, very height-advantageous shoes. Hugs were exchanged and I was glad I wore shoes with heels. It was also revealed that my real name is not actually @kangaru.

She also brought cool swag - namely this super shiny, metallic bookmark with very appropriate quote from the book. Isn't it pretty?

I was also sporting "Shatter Me" nails, mostly because I had this nail polish set I hadn't used yet, and they were appropriately the colors of the book cover. For those interested in nail things: base coat was Chanel "Black Satin", followed by a coat of OPI "Spark de Triomphe" (a shimmery gold glitter), topped with OPI Shatter in White, and then top coated.

Me & Sophia- I don't know why we match.

Have you been to any book tours / signings? Or met internet peeps in real life? See you all Friday for a return to randomosity and schneizeleffort! :)


Movie Review: The Hunger Games, PART 2

TGIF again, friends! This was supposed to go up Wednesday, but I guess I had a lot more to say than I thought. Let's go right to the meat of this post because it's another long one.

Last week, I told you all the things I LIKED about The Hunger Games movie. In this PART 2 of my review, I'm going to tell you where the movie disappointed, and why I liked it but have mixed feelings about it.


*SPOILERS* after the movie poster.

Standard disclaimer: I'm actually NOT one of those super nitpicky people who are near impossible to satisfy with book-to-movie adaptations. I get that books and movies are totally different mediums. So you know, I don't mind if they cut or change things to make the movie flow better - as long as it's true to the book's spirit.

That said, I did LIKE the movie. I just thought it could've been a lot better. *Warning* Serious Wall of Text below or just skip to the end for the TL;DR conclusion.


NITPICKY BITS (Let's start with the small, not-so-problematic things, shall we?)
  • Fashion: While I loved the wacky, colorful fashion of the Capitol and the impeccably kooky-yet-chic Effie Trinket, the Tributes (including our MCs) had disappointing costumes. I get that they're supposed to look a little ridiculous, but the book makes a point about the importance of fashion/presentation to survival. As such, I didn't expect the Tributes to look quite so clownish.
Did we walk in on an 80s prom?
  • Katniss' outfits were particularly disappointing. They didn't speak to the elegant yet bold -and most importantly, iconic- designs that made Cinna such an asset to her in the Games and beyond.
In Alz's head: District 12 on fire!
Movie: District 12 sort-of-on-fire!
Too much twirling is awkward. Katniss, please stop!
  • Boy With the Bread flashback: I think from a non-reader perspective, it's unclear what's going on. It's not exactly clear in the scene that Katniss is, you know, starving and that Peeta's gesture of kindness was not just kind but also LIFE SAVING. The teasery piece-meal presentation only added to the confusion.

Explanations of some plot points were vague, and I think that was because the filmmakers over-relied on fan knowledge. We subconsciously brought a lot of HG background with us to the film.
  • Sponsorship: It's explained in a roundabout way; we're given pieces of information to string together, and it's not emphasized enough to make it seem as important as it is. The silver parachutes aren't mentioned before the first one comes floating down to Katniss in the Arena.
    • Not emphasizing sponsorship took away from big themes of the book - how dehumanized the Tributes are, how the lines between real life and entertainment have been blurred. You kind of lose WHY it's so important for Katniss and Peeta to play along in this twisted Capitol game, WHY their star-crossed love is important as a strategy, WHY she has to make an impression, and WHY the Careers resent her so much for getting hype and attention. It's not just jealousy.
  • Effie Trinket: I don't think it's actually stated in the movie what Effie's role is. All we know is that she's the Capitol's mouthpiece at the Reaping & then she just...hangs around?

Some of the supporting players had glossed over character development, partly due to time restraints, but I felt like some of this could have been clarified with just an extra line or two.
  • Haymitch enters the movie as a grumpy drunk, unwilling to give Peeta and Katniss the time of day, but the next day, he's gruffly being all mentor-like & less drunk! There's no real transformation because the movie alters the scene where he explicitly acknowledges their spirit & agrees to stop drinking in order to train them. This important line is gone.
  • Cinna: Book!Katniss takes a quick liking to Cinna, but their relationship in the movie feels rushed. Cinna immediately separates himself from other Capitol citizens by offering Katniss sympathy instead of false congratulations, but the line in the book (left out in the movie) about how he chose District 12 said something more about the core of his character.
  • Peeta: I loved Josh's Peeta, but he is less complex in the movie. They chose to emphasize his goodness & kindness because Katniss needs a trustworthy ally, so I get the rationale behind this. However, I missed the nuances of book!Peeta, who was also clever and charismatic and KNEW how to work it. He was more ambiguous because he was so good at playing the crowd. Like Katniss, I question Peeta's motives when he shows up in the Arena with the Careers, whereas in the movie, because there is less emphasis on Peeta's cleverness and cunning, his joining up with the Careers seems more out of left field. And again, this takes away from the real/not real theme of the books, and the interesting nuances of Katniss and Peeta's relationship.

SARAH ENNI has an excellent post here about the lessening of complexity in movie!Peeta (and it includes commentary on movie!Gale too!).

I think the movie is faithful more to the PLOT and character of Katniss than it is to the themes of the book. The Hunger Games is at least partly about the conflating of entertainment with life, and it makes social commentary about violence and desensitization, consumerism, and class division.

I felt like in the filmmakers' efforts to stick to the plot and please fans, they sort of let these themes fall by the wayside. As I mentioned before, the flattening out of Peeta's character coupled with the de-emphasis of Sponsorship took away from the theme of real vs. "real." Yes, instead we have the 3rd person POV of the Gamemakers' manipulating the Arena and sports commentating from Caesar Flickerman, but that's an overt, obvious parallel to draw on the reality TV front. BUT one of the most powerful aspects of the reality TV theme in the book was how insidious and manipulative it was - that the Tributes themselves are forced out of necessity to participate in this kind of crowd-pandering. In some respects, the deft calculation Peeta shows when crafting his and Katniss' public personas is as chilling as Katniss' split-second ability to shoot-to-kill to survive.

I can't help but think maybe Gary Ross' directing style wasn't the best for a movie that is more weighted on the action side than on the contemplative, character-building side that Gary Ross is so good at. As I said in my PART 1 post, the best scenes in the movie were character/emotion-driven scenes. The scenes I had the most problems with were the action sequences, and not just because of the often annoying and (in this movie) uninspired use of the dreaded Shaky Camera Effect. Sorry dudes, but Shaky Camera does not automatically equate action, grittiness, OR drama. It's like shorthand in that it's a little bit LAZY.

There was also the interesting choice to straddle the line of placing us in Katniss' POV (Gary Ross' rationale for the Shaky Cam) and placing us in the position of Capitol citizen. Because let's face it, if we're going to watch the movie & buy the merch, we're more Capitol than we are downtrodden District people. And I liked that the film tried to remind us of our place, but I don't think the real, uncomfortable impact of that place is felt because of a curious downplaying of extremes by the movie & a serious flaw in tone.

For example, a directing choice that seriously threw off the tone for me was the decision to emphasize the simple beauty of the forests and how Katniss finds her peace there and then draw that same tone into the forests of the Arena. This dampened the feeling of danger in the Arena! My impression from the book of the Arena forest was that it is familiar territory to Katniss but still terrifying because it's a death trap. She knew not to trust her surroundings, and I was scared for her. You don't really get that sense in the movie.

No, girl friend. That's probably poisonous.

All my criticisms culminate into this, the MAJOR REASON why I came out of the movie with mixed feelings. The TONE was never quite where I wanted it to be to truly capture the spirit of the books.
  • Lack of urgency: I think most of you will agree when I say that one of the biggest strengths and appeal of the book is that it is THRILLING. Once Katniss is whisked off to the Capitol, the prose is relentless and ruthless. There is a sense of URGENCY in the plot, and we're left holding our breath, worrying over Katniss and Peeta's safety. By the end of the Games in the book, the desperation and tension is palpable, which is why the last minute rule-change is so suspenseful. For a split second, Katniss is actually worried that she might have to kill Peeta and that he might try to kill her, and that mood is what makes us get why it's Such a Big Deal when she pulls out those berries. This lack of urgency also has little to do with the fact that I went into the movie knowing what would happen because things can still be gripping and tense even when you know what comes next.
  • Violence/Action: Part of the reason the movie didn't feel urgent to me was because the action wasn't very thrillingly shot (again, Shaky Cam does not good action make), and it's not exactly that the movie wasn't violent enough; it wasn't visceral enough. The opening scene at the Cornucopia is the closest Gary Ross ever comes to the mix of fear, adrenaline, and discomfort that the premise of the Hunger Games is meant to inspire. I know that this is PG-13, but the violence doesn't have to be graphic to leave an impression. Suzanne Collins did it with her prose, which was roughly PG-13 level in Book 1, and the PG-13 Harry Potter films did it too.
      And I think that's a real pity because the violence in HG is kind of a big point. The violence and voyeurism is what brings out the pertinent themes of the series. It's the instrument with which we're made to see how wrong aspects of our society can go.
    • Lack of Extremes: PG-13 violence aside, did anyone else notice how clean Katniss was in the Arena, despite dodging fireballs, running through wilderness, and getting smacked around and cut up? And Peeta's grave injury turned out to be Not-So-Grave thanks to Magic Healing Serum. In the book, this injury not only almost kills him, it continues to hinder him & has a lasting impact on his life. When that hovercraft comes to take them out of the Arena, our heroine and hero look like what they endured was just a scuffle.

    No worries! Just a knuckle-scrape & ripped pants!
    In fact, the biggest contrast of extremes we're shown on screen is the Capitol vs. District 12, and even that is strangely toned down.I guess I wanted the contrast to be more visually stark.
    • District 12: My friends imagined District 12 to be dirt poor. They imagined gray skies and ramshackle buildings, tired people with soot sunk into their skins. I imagined something industrial-rural, dark and gritty.
    Coal mining town of Zhenchuanbu, China.  Photo/ Michael Yamashita

      Instead, the District 12 we're given is poor but in a rural Dorthea Lange way that is still oddly picturesque. Where's the coal dust settled over everything as described in the book? Did anyone else think the District was both cleaner and more lush than it was in the books?

    • The Capitol: It's sleek and chic and almost sterile, but in the books, its defining feature was DECADENCE, and I didn't quite get that from the movie. The Capitol is pretty and fancy in an Apple Store kind of way, whereas I always thought it was more opulent in a so-rich-it's-rotten-underneath kind of way. Like over-ripe fruit or overly preserved food.
    I already touched on violence, but it also falls under the "lack of extremes" section. It felt like every time Gary Ross approached the level of realness needed for the violence to make an impact (i.e. the Cornucopia), he remembered his PG-13 aim and pulled back. Things did not feel truly dangerous in this movie because so many of the edges of the HG book had been smoothed over and packaged.

    And this brings me briefly back to the interesting decision to cast the audience as sitting both in Katniss' POV and in the POV of a Capitol citizen. Maggie Stiefvater wrote a thought-provoking review of the HG movie's audience, praising the filmmakers for showing us that as much as we might dislike it, we are members of the Capitol. Stiefvater points specifically to the point where Thresh saves Katniss from Clove, resulting in applause from the movie audience. This same thing happened at the screening my friends went to.

    I understand Stiefvater's point, but I have to disagree that this type of response is indicative of deliberate film-making that comments on the meta-theme of us being people who would enjoy watching kids killing kids. I see the applause as a failing by the filmmakers to actually make us think and be uncomfortable with the idea that we might be members of the Capitol. The audience has to be at least somewhat AWARE of the point being made to make it relevant, and the toning down of the extremes and lack of urgency in the film took away focus from the themes that would have allowed a movie audience to make the connection that they're enjoying kids killing kids and maybe that should make them uncomfortable. From the outside perspective of reviewing an audience, yes, a point is being made about the movie-going audience, but it would have been more powerful for the movie to make the audience themselves aware of the social commentary as it is happening.

    For example, in the book, I was glad it was Clove who died over Katniss, but I recognized that she was a victim in the Games too. The movie could have really pushed this point home, so that we're manipulated to maybe want to applaud Clove's end but that we recognize how twisted that desire is. We should recognize in that moment that though we want to be Katniss, we're not because we aren't in the Arena; we're the audience- the Capitol- and that should make us uncomfortable.

    But the movie doesn't do that because it's toned down. That's why I keep coming back to the point that it wasn't visceral enough. The movie shied away, I think, from really digging down deep into the tough realities presented in the world of the Hunger Games. It's like The Hunger Games Lite or Diet Hunger Games.

    As a friend said, what makes the Hunger Games story so good is the fact that this brave, desperate girl from nowhere, DARES to defy the powerful Capitol and the entire system that oppresses her.

    THAT is the moment of triumph in the book; we don't need the manipulated moment of Clove's defeat to give us a place to applaud. Katniss rises to the occasion, despite the crap odds and the harsh realities around her. But she doesn't shine quite so brightly in the movie because the darkness around her isn't quite as dark. (But Jennifer Lawrence was still stellar.)

    The movie is good and respects its source material, but it lacks the urgency of the book. Reading the book was an adrenaline rush; watching the movie was not. It also smoothed over a lot of the thematic and character complexities of the book, and therefore doesn't quite capture its spirit (though it comes very close sometimes). All in all, the movie is a fun companion piece to The Hunger Games, but seriously, just READ IT.

    Your reward for sticking all the way through this on a Friday.

    This scene in the movie is nearly as flawless as this gif.

    Agree? Disagree? Lay it on me in the comments, and happy weekend! Next week, a return to schneizeleffort! :)